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January 2: Berchtoldstag

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Originally written on January 2, 2021. Updated 2023

In some areas of Switzerland and Liechtenstein, Berchtold Day, or locally Berchtoldstag, is celebrated on this day, January 2.
The name of the Alemannic tradition does not refer to a Saint (there is no St. Berchtold) but is derived from the verb berchten, meaning “to walk around, asking for food”, which we find throughout Europe in the period from the day of the Dead to the Epiphany, even if there are various theories concerning the holiday’s name. Blessed Berchtold of Engelberg Abbey, for istance, died circa 2 November 1197, and the abbey could have been important enough to translate his feast out of advent. But, according to others, it celebrates a hunting trip circa 1191 by Duke Berchtold V of Zähringen, who decided to name his new city after the first animal he killed on that trip, hence Bern, Switzerland.

Another archaic element seems to be that of the presence of Berchta (or Perchta, depending the version you heard), the ancient goddess of abundance and wild animals, who in medieval times took on the appearance of a mythological creature, called Frau Perchta, who dispensed gifts of food to good children and she tortured bad ones.
It is no coincidence that in some areas of Europe Berchta is celebrated on January 6 and in some cases is compared to the Italian Befana.

Berchtold Day is a public holiday in 15 cantons, and it is a light-hearted, sociable event. People meet in pubs and restaurants to exchange good wishes for the new year.
Families usually celebrate this feast day by having traditional meals offered by local cultural associations. Some villages, including Hallwil in the canton of Aargau, organize a parade of dressed up and masked figures symbolizing concepts like fertility, age, ugliness, wisdom, and vice, all enlivened by folk songs and dances.
Children (and not only) eat large amounts of nuts, that are both eaten in a “nut feast” and used for games, including build “hocks” of four nuts close together on the ground with a fifth nut balanced on top.
In any case, nuts is an element linked to fertility and its use seems to be connected once again to the ancient Perchta.

Berchtold Day is a public holiday in the following cantons: some communities of Aargau, Bern, Jura (when January 2 is a “silent day”, Ruhetag), Lucerne, Neuchâtel, Thurgau, Vaud, Zurich, Fribourg, Glarus, Nidwalden, Obwalden, Schaffhausen, Solothurn and Zug.
As the Berchtoldstag is an Alemannic tradition, it is usually only celebrated in areas that boast a predominantly Alemannic population. This includes, of course, the above-mentioned areas of Switzerland, as well as Liechtenstein and part of the Alsace region, in France.

Images from web – Google Research

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